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Houston, We Have Problem: RIP Whitney Houston, Dead at 48

Whitney Houston is dead at 48. What does her death tell us about ourselves? Whitney Houston is dead at 48. What does her death tell us about ourselves? Featureflash / Shutterstock.com

I logged onto Facebook tonight and found out that Whitney Houston has died. The pop singer best known for her eleven #1 hits, including “I Will Always Love You,” “Saving All My Love For You,” and “How Will I Know?” had fallen from grace in the public eye thanks to a long bout with drug addiction and some wild domestic troubles with husband and fellow pop star Bobby Brown. But nevertheless, the news came as a shock to me, and I’m sure to many who heard.

But the interesting thing to me about Houston’s death was the mixed reaction I found in my social media network, which turned out to be a microcosm of the stir going on around the internet on Saturday night.

Here are three (slightly edited) statuses from my Facebook feed. Note the different attitude in each:

I think it’s possible to acknowledge this tragedy while at the same time acknowledging that there are a lot of people who suffer invisibly, and that our priorities as a society need a tune up.

1. RIP any other of the millions of people who didn't have pretty much unlimited resources to get their shit together and stop smoking crack and could probably sing pretty OK too.

2. Whitney Houston is dead. I was certainly not a "fan", per se, but after all the rude, uncalled-for, self-righteous, judgmental venom I had to read on here after Amy Winehouse's untimely passing, know that your negative opinions aren't welcome, and while there were clearly bad choices involved, it doesn't mean there wasn't a REAL PERSON with real feelings, real family, and it's still a very real tragedy. As an ARTIST she contributed more positively to the world than most of you loudmouths ever will, so just STFU.

3. Houston, we have a problem.

I found myself asking, what’s my reaction to this news? Which of these status updates aligns most closely to my feelings? And the answer is, paradoxically, all of them. Let me break it down for you:

The first post: I definitely hear the argument that many people suffer battles with addiction, and that it’s perhaps problematic to make a lot out of one person, while others suffer in anonymity. It’s perhaps especially worse when there are addicts who would embrace help, but lack the resources to acquire that help, whereas Whitney Houston was not quite so destitute. There’s a problem with our culture of celebrity worship, at least insomuch as it makes us forgetful of the suffering of less visible people amongst us.

The second post: Houston was a real person, who really suffered, and we should feel bad about that, rather than being dismissive of a fellow human being’s tragically early demise. I feel that. And I don’t think it contradicts the first sentiment completely. I think it’s possible to acknowledge this tragedy while at the same time acknowledging that there are a lot of people who suffer invisibly, and that our priorities as a society need a tune up.

The third post: Gallows humor – I need it. Other people may not have as dark a sense of humor as I do, but if I don’t take time to laugh at the absurdity and sadness in life, then I fear it will overwhelm me. Of course, I draw lines when it comes to edgy comedy, but this joke didn’t seem mean-spirited; it was the right tone for the moment (for me). And it wrapped up this whole Whitney Houston thing succinctly and cleverly without unduly diminishing the bleakness of death, which awaits us all whether we’re laughing or not.

Tonight, I’m mulling over a lot of things: The fact that a celebrity I didn’t really know or like in life has inspired all these reflections in death; the fact that people will make much of her tragedy and little of similar tragedies because the suffering of non-celebrities can be an afterthought in our culture; in the midst of darkness, a little laughter casts some light. Rest in peace Whitney Houston and every other human being whose friends and family watched them fight a losing battle against addiction.

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Joey Diaz tells his firsthand story about the drug problems that eventually led to Whitney Houston’s death.
Last modified on Tuesday, 10 July 2012 16:49

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